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 Thursday, April 10, 2014

The term “modern app” is starting to gain some traction in our industry, but what is a modern app?

Microsoft started using this term to describe formerly-Metro and now Windows Store apps, but then they kind of backed off because they settled on Windows Store App as the name for what they were doing.

At Magenic though, we design and build modern apps for our customers in a platform independent way. We define the term thusly:

Modern applications support all types of devices, from phones to tablets to laptops to desktop computers, on all different platforms, from Windows to iOS to Android and HTML5. They provide first-class support for touch, keyboard, and mouse scenarios. And they rely on well-considered UX design to enable your users to leverage complex back-end or cloud-based services and data in a highly productive and compelling manner.

In our view, modern applications extend beyond simple mobile apps to include enterprise realities such as the need to work on existing computing devices (mostly PCs with keyboards and mice) as well as newer devices such as ultrabooks, tablets, and phones of all shapes, sizes, and OSes. And modern apps leverage existing backend services, as well as public and/or private cloud infrastructure where appropriate.

You can imagine that this definition of modern apps isn’t necessarily neat or simple, but it is meaningful. A typical modern app requires extensive development an integration on an enterprise’s servers and backend systems. It probably has a substantial Windows or web client for use by employees who need deep and rich interactivity with the entire system. And in today’s world it almost certainly has a meaningful subset of (or even full) functionality on tablets and phones.

At the moment enterprises are still trying to make BYOD work. As a result a typical modern app tends to have multiple client device implementations. If the BYOD trend continues it is reasonable to expect that cross-platform technologies such as Xamarin and JavaScript will become the norm rather than multiple disparate native implementations.

It is also possible that the high cost of BYOD for enterprise apps will cause enterprises to reassert control over client devices (like what happened 20 years ago as the PC and Windows emerged into the enterprise). This would likely bring out one majority client platform such as the Windows Runtime (WinRT) that enterprises would target for many internal modern business apps.

Time will tell on that front. But regardless, the high emphasis on UX, the need to support keyboard/mouse and touch equally, and the deep integration with existing enterprise and cloud systems are the cornerstones of the definition of a modern app.

Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:59:24 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Monday, April 07, 2014

CHSPK18 Visual Studio Live! is coming to Chicago again this year. We’re right downtown near the big park and the lake, so it is a great location!

Even better, we’ve got a great lineup of content that covers today’s technologies (like WPF and ASP.NET) and emerging technologies like JavaScript single page applications (SPAs), TypeScript, mobile development for Android, iOS, and Windows.

I hope to see you there!

Update: I forgot to mention that you can save $400 on registration by clicking the link in this post!

Monday, April 07, 2014 1:29:15 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
 Thursday, April 03, 2014

Microsoft has substantially improved the story around side loading of Windows 8 WinRT (Windows Runtime or Windows Store) apps for the enterprise and business environments.

I’ve blogged pretty extensively in the past about the costs of the two steps necessary to side load apps:

  1. Unlock your devices for side loading
  2. Actually side load (install) your various business apps

Microsoft has now radically changed the cost of step 1. This blog post from Microsoft contains the following statement:

Enterprise Sideloading– In May, we will grant Enterprise Sideloading rights to organizations in certain Volume License programs, regardless of what product they purchase, at no additional cost. Other customers who want to deploy custom line-of-business Windows 8.1 apps can purchase Enterprise Sideloading rights for an unlimited number of devices through Volume Licensing at approximately $100. For additional information on sideloading licensing, review the Windows Volume Licensing Guide.

Basically what this means is the following (as I understand it):

For developers/testers things are unchanged – you still use a free dev unlock key to install apps for development and testing.

For organizations with an Enterprise Agreement (EA) you’ll be able to get a side loading unlock key that you can use on all your Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise devices, regardless of whether they are domain joined or not. As before, you can also get ‘companion device’ keys to unlock Windows RT devices if you have a Windows 8 Enterprise device too.

For smaller organizations that don’t have an EA you might have (or can get) one of a number of ‘Open’ or ‘Select’ license agreements with Microsoft. Once you have one of these you can buy a side loading key for around $100 that will unlock any number of Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise devices.

When compared to the old model of buying keys for $30/device this is a major change in the right direction. For a maximum of around $100 virtually every organization (small to huge) can get a side loading unlock key for all their devices.

Now this still doesn’t address the need to actually install your apps onto your devices.

Microsoft offers InTune, which is a full MDM (mobile device management) product. If you find the value proposition of an MDM compelling then InTune is probably the right answer for you – though there’s a per device/per month cost (ranging from $6/device/month to $11/device/month) so you don’t get MDM for free of course.

Screenshot (5)I’ve been coordinating an open source project called OrgPortal that you can use to (relatively) easily create an app store for your organization.

There’s another open source project called CompanyStore that is very similar.

Alternately you can have your users manually run a PowerShell to install and update each app manually over time.

I think Microsoft has taken a substantial step in the right direction with the changes to the cost and availability of side loading keys. Couple this with the increasing maturity of projects like OrgPortal and CompanyStore and I think we’re getting to the point where WinRT is something to consider for business app development.

Thursday, April 03, 2014 12:43:38 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
 Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On my flight to SF for #bldwin this week I sat between two random people. All three of us were normal business travelers, all spending our time on the flight doing a mix of entertainment (videos, reading, social games) and work (spreadsheets, email, editing documents).

(yes, I know it is rude to look at what your fellow travelers have on their screens, but in the cramped quarters on an airplane how can you NOT see???)

To my left was a man, perhaps in his late 30’s. He had an iPad that he used as a tablet to do some reading and watch some video. He also did some work on the iPad, for which he dug out a clamshell case that converted the iPad into a laptop with a keyboard. One device plus a laptop-sized keyboard peripheral.

To my right was a woman, maybe in her early 40’s. She had an iPad that she used to play some social games and do some reading. For most of the flight she dug out a traditional big Win7 laptop so she could use Outlook, Word, and Excel. Two devices consuming about the same physical area as the guy with his iPad and clamshell, though I bet he carried less weight than she did.

I’m sure it’ll be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I was using my Surface Pro 2 the whole flight. And I too did some reading, some email, did a little social gaming, browsed the web, and did some work in Word. I am quite confident that my single device consumed less physical area than their devices in my carry-on bag. It might be that the weight of my device was comparable to the guy with his iPad/clamshell (the Surface weights more than the iPad, but perhaps less than the clamshell). Certainly we both were carrying less weight than the woman with an iPad and old-fashioned laptop.

For a long time I pleaded with Microsoft to give us (or at least me) a device that gave me the power of a laptop in the form of a tablet. It took them long enough, but I want to be clear that I think the Surface Pro 2 is exactly what I asked for way back when.

Enough battery life I don’t think about it. Light enough to carry (though not as light as the smaller iPads). Powerful enough to run Visual Studio and 1-2 Hyper-V VMs so I can do my work. Compact even with the backlit type keyboard.

The only thing I really wish is that there was a WinRT version of Office. The fact that existing Office drops me into the legacy desktop, and more importantly doesn’t allow me to use the Share charm or the integrated-into-WinRT DropBox and Box support is frustrating.

I’m fine with being in the legacy desktop for Visual Studio, because then I’m almost certainly connected to a bigger monitor, keyboard, and mouse setup.

(for those who are curious, here’s a good example of a nice USB-based docking station for Windows tablets; dual monitor output, keyboard/mouse, and more USB ports for other peripherals; all by plugging in one USB cable to your device)

But I frequently use Office without being docked, and it would be much nicer to use a WinRT version in that scenario.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014 4:57:13 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Thursday, March 20, 2014

The MyVote app is a complete modern app built by Magenic as a demo for Modern Apps Live! conferences.Logo

MyVote from Modern Apps Live! LV 2014 is available on the MyVote releases page on GitHub.

The MyVote app is available for install

Although we’ve made the code available on GitHub, getting the app compiled and running is non-trivial of course, because this is a complete modern app with clients for

  • WinRT
  • iOS
  • Android with Xamarin
  • HTML 5/JavaScript single page app

and services that use

  • Windows Azure SQL Server
  • Windows Azure Mobile Services
  • Windows Azure Web Sites
  • Windows Azure Cloud Services

In GitHub the README.md file contains a list of places in the code where you’ll need to insert your own encryption and service keys. Beyond that you are largely on your own. If you are looking for a more detailed walkthrough of the implementation I can only suggest that you attend Modern Apps Live! in Orlando this fall.

Thursday, March 20, 2014 10:23:53 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Monday, March 17, 2014

I just created a release of CSLA 4 version 4.5.580-Beta with preliminary support for iOS via the Xamarin tools.

You can get it via nuget (easiest), or from the release page on GitHub.

This is an exciting pre-release because it now means you can reuse the same business logic code across all modern app client platforms and the desktop and the cloud. This is a “who’s who” list of supported platforms:

  • iOS
    • iPad
    • iPhone
  • Android
    • Phones
    • Tablets
  • Windows
    • WinRT (Windows 8)
    • WPF
    • Silverlight
    • Windows Forms
  • Windows Phone
  • Cloud and servers
    • Windows Azure
    • Windows Server
    • ASP.NET (MVC and Web Forms)
    • WCF
    • Web API
  • Linux
  • OS X

CSLA .NET allows you to easily create reusable business logic (authorization, validation, calculations, etc.) and to share a common app server with simple network configuration. I don’t know of any other open source C# framework that makes it possible for you to reuse the exact same business logic across all these different platforms.

Because the iOS support is new we are asking for your help. If you have the Xamarin tools for iOS please help us out by building some business code using CSLA and let us know if you find any issues (either on the forum at http://forums.lhotka.net or via the CSLA GitHub page.

Monday, March 17, 2014 10:42:21 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
 Thursday, March 06, 2014

I few weeks ago I posted about my new Nokia Lumia 1520 “phablet”: Lumia 1520- First thoughts

Tomorrow my new Lumia 1020 will replace the 1520.

Why?

Because the 1520 is just too big. Otherwise I really like it in a lot of ways – high def screen, easy to read content, very fast, slot for MicroSD card.

But it doesn’t fit nicely into my pockets, and it is very awkward to hold up to my ear when talking (yes, I often use BlueTooth, but not always).

Mostly though, even with my big hands (I’m 2m tall after all) I can’t use it one-handed. <insert texting while driving jokes here> In reality this has nothing to do with driving as I have a good hands-free setup in my truck. This has to do with normal everyday use of the phone, and the reality that it never works one-handed, even for basic things like pulling it out of my pocket to answer a call.

I have high hopes for the 1020. It is the size of my 920, which I loved, and has a much better camera. I don’t believe it has a MicroSD slot though, which is the only real negative I can see.

Thursday, March 06, 2014 1:56:47 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
 Sunday, March 02, 2014

In my last post my focus was on listing the numerous WinRT apps I use on a regular basis – many of which, if I couldn’t get them on Win8 would drive me to carry an iPad. I’m personally not just a software developer, I’m a user of computing as well.

One line, a sensation-maker, in my post was that I think Windows developers who aren’t using WinRT apps are doing their ultimate users a disservice. This doesn’t apply to web developers or other people who aren’t developing actual Windows applications, but it surely applies to people living today in the legacy WPF, SL, and Windows Forms technologies.

The thing is, I made no effort to describe why I believe that to be true, because the focus of that post was to list useful apps.

So what did I mean by that comment?

Here’s the thing. As someone who does use a lot of WinRT apps I can say that a lot of them suck. I’ve divided the suckage into three categories.

Some apps are obviously built by pure mobile developers, who have no comprehension of keyboard/mouse or productivity on anything but a tablet. So their apps are sometimes pretty good on a tablet, but are virtually useless on a laptop or desktop. Because I use all three types of device with pretty much every app, I find that these mobile-only or mobile-first apps just suck. I might use them on my tablet, but they are always pretty secondary to more complete apps because they aren’t universal.

Other apps are obviously built by pure desktop developers, who have no comprehension of touch. These apps often work pretty well with keyboard/mouse, but are awkward to use with touch. Technically they work on my tablet, but they aren’t fun or efficient, and so I consider them to suck.

The third group of sucky apps are built by people with no WinRT user experience. These apps might, in theory, work pretty well with touch and/or keyboard and mouse, but they miss the point of all the cool WinRT features. They don’t use AppBars or the Share charm or Settings or Search correctly. They don’t use dialogs correctly, they don’t use navigation correctly. I’m sure the authors of these apps often think they are being clever by inventing their own techniques, but as a user their apps just suck because they don’t work right.

In short, sucky apps come from three sources:

  1. Mobile developers who don’t consider laptop/desktop device scenarios
  2. Desktop developers who don’t consider tablet scenarios
  3. Developers who are ignorant about the WinRT environment and don’t understand how it works

So as a developer, if you plan to ever build WinRT apps and you aren’t using WinRT then you are pretty much guaranteed to fall into category 3, and very possibly 1 and/or 2.

Hence, if you are a smart client developer – unless you are planning to retire on WPF (which is fine) or switch to the iPad/Android world, you are doing yourself and your users a disservice if you aren’t actually using and learning “the WinRT way”.

Update:

Jason Bock mentioned something to me that got me thinking. I base all of this on one core assumption:

Win32 has no long-term future as a mainstream technology.

To be clear, I am 100% sure Win32 will be around for the next 20-30 years, just like mainframes and minicomputers are still with us – usually hidden behind the scenes or in a terminal window, but still here. I don’t think anyone would call them “mainstream” though. Nobody ever mentions IBM in the same breath as Microsoft/Apple/Google/Samsung.

Now if you think Microsoft will back off from WinRT, and by some miracle Apple and Google and Samsung will just completely fail to adapt iOS, Android, or ChromeOS to the enterprise, then you can imagine yourself still doing Win32 as a mainstream technology in 5-7 years.

I personally can’t imagine that happening. I think 5 years from now Win32 will be pretty much what we think of as VB6 today. Something that runs a ton of software, and something that people still do, but not something that would be considered mainstream or vibrant.

For my part, I think that if Microsoft does back off WinRT to try and rejuvenate Win32 … well … that’ll be the opening one or more competitors needs to swoop in and take the enterprise desktop.

Sunday, March 02, 2014 10:55:12 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [10]  | 
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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.

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